Chandigarh, Nov. 24: Former Punjab agriculture minister and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Gurdev Singh Badal was arrested in Faridkot late last night by the vigilance bureau on corruption charges.
The arrest comes close on the heels of a decision by the Akalis to launch a jail bharo agitation against the allegedly anti-people policies of the Congress government under chief minister Amarinder Singh.
“We have been able to detect disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 1.07 crore belonging to the former minister. We are questioning him and are hopeful of unearthing a large sum of money and property from him,” said a vigilance officer.
The case against Badal was registered at the Patiala vigilance bureau police station and its Ludhiana branch carried out his arrest. The Akali leader was in Faridkot organising the jail bharo. He has been shifted to Ludhiana for questioning.
Badal is the fifth Akali leader to be arrested on similar charges since the Congress government came to power in February. The other Akali leaders nabbed on graft charges are Tota Singh, Sucha Singh Langah, Ajit Singh Kohar and Jagdish Singh Garcha. While Garcha and Kohar are in judicial custody, Langah and Tota are on bail.
Badal, an MLA from Panjgarian, had filed an anticipatory bail application on October 16 in the Ropar district and sessions court fearing arrest and “maltreatment” by the Mohali vigilance bureau under Sections 409 and 420 of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The bail plea was dismissed following a police statement that Badal was not wanted as no case had been registered against him.
Badal and his son, Kewal Singh, vice president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), are close to Shiromani Akali Dal president and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
The Akali Dal’s woes have mounted ever since Amarinder Singh’s anti-corruption campaign led to the downfall of Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravi Sidhu.
The Akalis have condemned Badal’s arrest, saying it was “stage-managed to stem the growing resentment” against the state’s Congress government.
“The Congress, after being humiliated in the SGPC polls, has again resorted to harassment of its political opponents. Gurdev Badal is an important member of the Shiromani Akali Dal and was supposed to play a crucial role in the jail bharo agitation,” said a party spokesman.
While Badal’s arrest has come as a shock to the Akalis, that of former public works minister Langah particularly embarrassed the party. The vigilance department had charged him with the illegal acquisition of agriculture land, urban homes, businesses, trucks, cars, gold and cash estimated at Rs 32 crore.
Langah reportedly did not own any land or businesses before assuming office in 1998. Investigators said that bribes were demanded construction contracts, jobs in his department or the posting of officials.
A Khalistan supporter before joining the Shiromani Akali Dal, Langah is also being investigated for terrorist links. Vigilance officers have accused him of harbouring his one-time mentor, Khalistan Commando Force leader Wassan Singh Zaffarwal.
Langah’s arrest was preceded by that of former education minister Tota Singh, who allegedly took bribes for the recruitment of teachers. Charges against him are still under investigation and dozens of appointments made during his term have since been cancelled.
Akali leaders are leaving no stones unturned to make the jail bharo programme a success. But Amarinder is equally adamant about not allowing them to succeed in their “nefarious designs” of vitiating the atmosphere in the state.
The chief minister has said that the state government will ensure peace “at all costs”.
The morale of the Akali rank and file has been on a high ever since Congress president Sonia Gandhi censured Amarinder for meddling in Sikh affairs during the SGPC polls.
Sonia’s silence on the Akalis at yesterday’s rally here is also being seen as a disapproval of Amarinder’s policy against his political opponents.
The Akalis have not ruled out a “crackdown” or pre-dawn swoops on some of their senior leaders as a preventive measure. But they also feel that any such move will only benefit them.
Their goal is to send across the message that the Amarinder government continues to “use repressive and undemocratic methods to cow down Parkash Singh Badal’s followers,” the party spokesman said.